“Chicago” by Carl Sandburg
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Poetry is one of the most magnificent inventions of the humanity; all the technological advances pale when compared to a single poem. A few lines, organized masterfully by the author, move the readers to their core, bring joy or tears, excitement, fear, hope, struggle, or triumph. The world of poetry exists somewhere on the narrow blurry line between the real and imaginary. The imaginary transports the audience into the completely new place or time or emotional setting while the real manifests itself in the fact that those distant places strangely remind us about our everyday lives and the emotions somehow resonate with our own feelings. The poem “Chicago” by Carl Sandburg denotes the description of the American city but at the same time connotes the human character of any person, which can be seen through the analysis of structure, choice of language, and imagery.
The analysis of this work should definitely start from the visual organization because it is quite peculiar and attractive. The lines end at unpredictable places, in the mid-sentence, fragmenting the sentences. At the same time, this technique is very natural as it describes the thought process of a person. People do not usually think and talk with perfect spacing and transitions. In the poem, the author “talks” to the city in the first part and to his imaginary opponents in the second, so these broken phrases resemble a real conversation.
It seems to the reader that the author stops to think and then continues again. For example, some of the lines convey the person’s doubts about something or the struggle to admit particular things: “And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: Yes, it” (Sandburg, 2012). Here, one can see that the character of the poem agrees with the accusation, but, at the same time, it is difficult for him/her to voice the example that would prove this point. Similarly, people often possess traits that can be difficult to accept, but it is necessary to come to terms with the shortcoming of the person to appreciate his or her strengths.
The poem can be roughly divided into two separate parts, which are saturated with slightly different moods. First of all, the poem starts with a direct address to the city of Chicago. It is possible to argue that the poem deliberately draws attention to the atrocities happening in the city. For instance, it is interesting how the phrases “luring the farm boys”, “kill again”, and “of wanton hunger” all appear at the beginning of the lines (Sandburg, 2012). Therefore, the picture one imagines is far from positive.
After that, the character in the poem starts addressing not to the city but its accusers. The transition happens in these two lines: “And having answered so I turn once more to those who sneer at this my city, and I give /them back the sneer and say to them” (Sandburg, 2012). In the escalating manner, the narrator proves that despite all the ugly aspects of the city life, the place is still worth living in and enjoying the life. He challenges the opponents to give an example of the other city that fights so fiercely with its drawbacks and finds the strength to be beautiful and lively even in the light of difficulties. There is a continuous escalation of emotion and passion that indicates the importance of Chicago for the hero of the poem. This escalation is seen in the short lines consisting of one or two words, “Bareheaded,/ Shoveling,/ Wrecking,/ Planning,/ Building, breaking, rebuilding”, like the exclamations of an impatient person (Sandburg, 2012). In this way, the flow and the progression of the poem, as well as its pace and rhythm, are effectively manipulated by the author to create the desired effect.
The culmination of this literary work is created through the repetition of the word ‘laughing’. Approximately ten last lines of the poem are overflowing with this word. The mood of this part is reassuring and uplifting. The poem is heavily built on contrasts, on the juxtaposition of negative and positive characteristics of Chicago. This last part is where the reader is finally convinced that the positive side will win at the end. The conclusion is then peaceful and slowing down. The author chooses to repeat the first stanza again, encapsulating the poem into the sandwich structure that brings a sense of closure and resolution.
The emotional appeal of the “Chicago” poem is beyond doubt. While it is possible to view it as a heightened appreciation of the city and feelings of patriotism, there is also possibly the deeper meaning to it. The author talks to the city much like one would talk to a human being. In fact, without knowing the title of the poem, one could easily be mislead into believing that these are the words addressed to a person. Moreover, this would be not an average person, but someone close to the hero. How many times people are faced with the dilemma of seeing the bad things that someone did and yet being unable to turn away from that person?
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For me as a reader, this poem is an illustration of complex human relationships that happen every day in the real life. In a sense, it is a thought process of one person spoken out loud. First, he/she reflects upon the negative sides of someone else, probably someone loved or close, and agrees that those things are bad. Although one can see that this is not easy for the hero, he/she tries to stay objective. Through this objectivity, the hero is able to turn the spotlight to the accusers and emerge with an advantage at the end. Having reconciled with the reality, he/she can then challenge the others. At the end of this thought process, the narrator obviously comes to the conclusion that all those negative things cannot eliminate the wonderful traits that exist in that loved one. So, at the end, the character passes a full circle and mentions this person again, yet this time more peacefully.
Having analyzed the poem “Chicago” by Carl Sandburg, one can understand that it implies more than its literal meaning. It is important to pay close attention to the structure of the poem, its sounding, syntax, and choice of words in order to form a full picture of the events. What is great is that every time there is the possibility to discover new shades of meaning and agree or disagree with other readers and even with oneself.
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